How Heating with Wood Keeps the Darkness Away

How Heating with Wood Keeps the Darkness Away (literally, figuratively, metaphorically…)

I love heating with wood. It’s been a common theme of many of my posts.


I will never forget the conversation I had with a friend before we moved off the grid almost 20 years ago and started heating with wood. She said “You’ll hate it! Oh it seems all romantic and stuff, but it won’t take long before you just hate it.” Almost 20 years later I still love it. Yes, by March I do get tired of starting the woodstove, sometimes several times a day in the swing seasons, but the overall experience is still amazing.

I love wood heat. I have never felt warmer. I love the work involved with getting our firewood. I love that’s it’s almost zero-carbon. And I love that every spring I know exactly where my heat is going to come from next winter. It’s in the piles of cut and stacked firewood that I harvested from our property that is curing and drying in the heat of summer.

I remember a movie from the 1980s called “The Mosquito Coast.” In it the father, played by Harrison Ford, has had enough of the rat race and decides to drop out. But he doesn’t do the hippie thing and just get a place in the woods near a village. Nope, he moves the family lock stock and barrel to a very southern location, in Central America I believe.

I certainly understand his desire to get out of the city. That was me. And I certainly appreciate his distaste for how wasteful our current economic model is. I’m with him. The movie though is a very cautionary tale. I’m sure the character was predisposed to this, but he begins a descent into madness and … spoiler alert … it doesn’t end well. That movie has stayed at the edge of my consciousness since I moved off-grid.

I do believe I was the instigating force in our move, although Michelle quickly came to love where we live and can’t imagine living back in the city again. I’m sure our daughters had misgivings about the whole adventure, but they seem to love visiting here now so I think living in the city they understand the attraction this place held for us.

As my mind chatters on though about how well capitalism is innovating to deal with our climate crisis (i.e. not fast enough) or the floating plastic blobs in the oceans, or the volume of waste each one of us creates each year in this system, it can become very easy to dwell on some dark thoughts about where we’re at.

This is what I love about heating with firewood. I know, it seems completely unrelated, but it’s not. Because I cut my own firewood. I harvest firewood from our 150 acres of forest and I am forced each winter to get out into our woods to do this. And when you are standing in a forest, surrounded by trees, and ponds (frozen right now) and more trees, well, it just seems that everything is alright with the world.


My focus completely changes. My mind just switches into a whole other gear. I am looking up to find dead trees to harvest. I am looking at the lean of these dead or dying trees to figure out how I can get them to fall right to the forest floor, without getting hung up in other trees. I’d like to say I’m such an expert that this rarely happens, but instead I’ll say that our woods are so healthy that I can rarely find a tree standing off on its own enough to not hit any number of obstacles on the way down.

I am also accompanied by “Jasper the Wonder Dog” in the woods and he reminds me of the simple concept of ‘joy.’ In the winter ‘The J-Dog” spends way more time inside the house than he’d like. But once he gets into the woods, all is forgotten. There are just endless smells to chase and paths to sprint down and places to dig and explore. Michelle claims our pets can smile. I’m not sure I see this (although none of them are grumpy cats so I guess I get it a bit).  But I can sense however the different mental states in my dog stuck inside most of the day in front of the fire which in itself is not the end of the world, and the dog in the woods who has unlimited space to run and unlimited smells to pursue. It simply is joy. There’s no question he’s smiling. I’m smiling right along with him.

This week we were cutting in an area with a lot of big beautiful pine trees. The deer love these places to hang out during big snowstorms because less of the snow makes it to the ground underneath. And boy does our dog love the scents they leave after being hunkered down.

Then there’s the repetition of hauling the cut logs from wherever they are (generally in lower area, up a huge descent)… up to the road where I can access them with the truck. And the lifting and the bucking with the electric chainsaw and splitting with the electric log splitter and piling and stacking and.. and … and…

A mind boggling amount of work, and a mind boggling stupid way to heat your house as opposed to having someone deliver a fossil fuel to your house to do it… natural gas, propane, home heating oil… but a mind boggling method to keep your mind uncluttered and unencumbered and joyful.

Ever have one of those nights when your mind if just full of thoughts that keep you from getting to sleep, and you haven’t had enough physical activity to make you tired enough to sleep? Ya…. When I’m cutting firewood I don’t have those.


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6 Responses to “How Heating with Wood Keeps the Darkness Away”

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Hi Cam,
    Nice looking wood that is nicely split! I am always inspired by your wood stories and I have a few of my own.

    Being in the city we have a gas furnace, however, we also have a Pacific Energy air-tight wood insert in our family room (basement) that we use ever day. Everyone that visits our house loves the warmth from our wood stove. Just had my brother-in-law and sister-in-law visiting from England. They arrived when we had that cold spell 3 weeks ago. They didn’t want to leave the family room 🙂

    I am known in our neighbourhood as the “wood scrounger”. I take everything from full trees to branches. I did about 7.5 face cords this year. I also purchase compressed wood logs from left over sawdust in the area. I like to keep enough wood for 2 years of burning and also if an emergency arises (gas not available) we will still be warm.

    A friend of mine needed a tree cut (ash bore problem). Due to that issue in Ottawa, the tree cutting companies had no time for my friend but they would make time if he gave them a $1000 (for one tree!!!). So the “wood scrounger” came to his rescue. His brother, my friend and I cut the large ash tree down safely and moved it to my place. He gets his tree cut for free and I get free wood.

    In addition to having face cords of wood like yours, I also have a large wood box. Let me explain. When I have wood that is 19 inches long, instead of the normal 16 inch, I cut off 3 inches and not in half. The 3 inch piece I throw in my wood box which is in my garage. It is 4 feet by 4 feet and piled 6 feet high. I have another one that is 10 X 3 and piled 4.5 feet high. Ash trees have a lot of knots and the reason there is so much “unconventional wood” in the wood box. Being in the city, I fill my recycle bin with these small and knotty pieces (easy way of carrying it). On a very cold day we will only burn slightly over 1 recycle bin of wood. This method allows me to use most of the wood that I cut down and being in the city, I don’t have to bag it and send it to a land fill. My wife is good (now), with wood piles in our back yard.

    I hope your course is a success once again.

  • A. Marie:

    Bless you, Cam, that’s how DH and I feel about our wood-burner–except that DH collects his wood off city curbsides and from fallen trees in our neighborhood. We envy you your woodlot, but as city slickers, we do what w can.

  • Paulione:

    You are the man. I’m just a grasshopper trying to glean sonething from your mastery~

  • I’ve been heating with wood for decades, like my parents and grandparents before me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love wood heat.

  • Jean:

    Wow, Cam, I don’t know who said that to you, but even after all these years, I still love heating with wood. Here in the city, we buy firewood from a family who cuts standing dead or diseased trees from people’s yards. For some of it they use electric chainsaws, some of it is gas. The wood is what I consider to be “city sized” but we burn it in our woodstove fireplace insert and are always grateful for the bone-warming heat it provides. You can’t beat the satisfaction of heating with wood; there is nothing more comforting than a wood fire.

  • I miss being able to shop wood. Have at a couple of those logs for me, eh? 🙂

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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